Welcome President Br. Ron Gallagher, members of the Board of Trustees, Administrators, faculty, friends, family, guests, and graduating seniors of the class of 2012. Welcome to the 2012 St. Mary’s College Commencement Ceremony.
As I look out into the crowd before me, I sense a wave of emotions from everyone present. For family and friends, the sense of pride you have in your graduate’s accomplishments is unmeasurable. You parents have a sense of joy in knowing that the child you have raised earned a college degree, and the knowledge there will be no more tuition payments. Brothers and sisters have gained a whole new sense of respect for the person who was your best friend growing up, or even your worst enemy. But nothing can top the feelings that we graduates have right now.
Only four years ago we sat through a ceremony similar to this: Convocation. That day, graduation seemed far away, and the next four years seemed fresh and new. It was the first time many of us lived on our own or even had to wake up for class by ourselves. We learned new and interesting items that could be cooked in the microwave without setting off the fire alarm. During that ceremony, we listened to unfamiliar voices speak and tell us how much we would learn over the next four years. We trusted complete strangers, called Resident Advisors, who were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and borderline crazy. They showed us where the essentials were on campus, like the laundary rooms, and gave us advice to get through the first week of college. Many of us quickly made new friends, joked around, and acted like everything was better than it had ever been. But deep down, whether we wanted to admit it or not, a sense of fear ached in the pit of our stomachs. The fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of the future. Today, we fear losing touch with these friends we have made. We fear not finding the ideal job, and instantly the stresses of our childhood seem so trivial.
When I was five years old, the worst thing I experienced was breaking my pink crayon. I cried for days. When I was eight, I was furious when I only got a Pochontis plate set and not the sneakers like I had asked for. At twelve years old when I didn’t make the talent show I never wanted to go back to school. And at fifteen, when my parents said I was too young to go to a school dance, I thought life was completly unfair. Part of me is ashamed for reacting so dramatically to issues that appear so minor now.
Recently, I was asked by a friend what the defining moment of my college experience was. I paused for a second, gathered my thoughts, and responded without hesitation:
I remember being so excited for Jan Term Break my junior year of college. Knowing that week would be the last bit of relaxation until I dove into five upper division courses, four of them in accounting. I was eager to do well in these courses, knowing if anything threated to hurt my almost perfect GPA it would be that upcomming semester. However, I never anticipated spending my break in the Cancer Unit of the Redwood City Hospital, as my mom began a long journey battling Ovarian Cancer.
Talk about feeling guilty. Up to that point my biggest worries were school and what my next outfit at Lululemon would be. All the things I had been so greedy about before instantly changed. Suddenly, achieving the perfect 4.0 and stressing over minor issues wasn’t my main priority. Learning to appreciate the simple things in life, like lunch with my three sisters and parents, or, the strong faith my parents exhibited in times of hardship, meant the world to me.
Now a year later my mom continues to fight the same battle, yet this experience truly opened my eyes to how blessed I am to attend Saint Mary’s. The focus and resources this school dedicates to seeing hardships outside a person’s own bubble is amazing. The Lasalian nature of the college teaches us the principle of “enter to learn, leave to serve.” The dedication to service is shown through programs like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program or VITA, where my classmates and I had the opportunity to do taxes for the underprivelaged in Oakland. The Academic Honor Council allowed me to work with students who made choices for which they had to take responsibility. Just as I got the chance to teach them one mistake doesn’t have to define them for the rest of their lives, they taught me why passing judgment too quickly is wrong. The exposure to a world different from my own, showed me how others dealt with issues in times of dispare. Learning from others has helped me manage this experience.
As students we learned a primary lesson from each other: resiliancy. Upon entering college we faced one of the biggest economic downturns in the US since the Great Depression. Many of us saw our parents lose their jobs, friends drop out of school, and may ourselves have doubted whether we could afford to make it to this day. We saw 3 of our classmates, Michael Ford, Jenny Martinez, and Connor Reed die tragically and mourned their deaths as a community. We are called “generation now” in refrence to having any answer at our fingertips. Yet during our college career, we’ve experienced situations we could not solve. We couldn’t solve the economic crisis, we couldn’t answer how our friends could die so young, and we can’t deny the fear of leaving school and not knowing what the future holds.
However, I am proud to say, that Saint Mary’s has given us the tools to succeed. Saint Mary’s has provided my peers and me a place to foster our intelligence and acknowledge the world outside the classroom. Saint Mary’s Liberal Arts Tradition has provided us access to knowledge we otherwise may have not encountered. Introduction to religions and races outside our own, or courses that include a service learning component are not built into most college curriculums. By becomming well versed in the classic writings from Aristotle to Franz Kafka, we were taught to question what goes on in everyday life. We were encouraged to think outside the box, problem solve, and develop our mind, body, and spirit. Many conversations in these seminar classes often turned to the injustices of the world and the steps we could take to ignite change. Saint Mary’s not only prepared all of us students to pass our CPA, LSATS, GMATS, or any other obstacle we will face after this day, but gave us confidence to touch the lives of others. With this said, the qualities we have gained over the last four years and the well rounded people we have become, have given us an advantage after we leave this campus. We are part of a very small percentage of college graduates who have been exposed to more than just our textbooks. This quality will open numerous doors in our future.
Although we are all very excited at this moment to be finished with a chapter in our lives, that same fear we felt as freshman still looms in our stomachs. The fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of the future.
To quote Marianne Williamson, Social activist and founder of peace alliance and meals on wheels:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"
We all have the capacity of doing something great. We have already proven that through our attendance here today. Don’t ever underestimate the power we have to be successful. And don’t ever take for granted the opportunities we have been given. Class of 2012, lets show the world what it means to be a Gael.